Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Book Review - Nest of Worlds

Nest of Worlds by Marek S. Huberath - (Originally published in Poland in 1998 this is the first edition in English available this year from Restless Books)

Imagine a world where your social status is determined by the color of your hair and where you must move to a new continent every 35 years.  In that new land your status will change and the society there will be different from what you knew.  Where the nature of your death is related to your Significant Name.  And there will be a special book called the "Nest of Worlds" which describes a very different world from your own.  A world where your act of reading just might make a difference on the lives of the characters in it.

Huberath is recognized as one of the greatest contemporary Polish science fiction writers and this is the first of his novels to be translated to English.  His work is basically science fiction/fantasy but he also explores some deep philosphical/moral issues along the way.  "Nest of Worlds" (Gniazdo światów) won the top Polish science fiction award in 1999.

The concept here is brilliant as you descend down through four versions of the "nested" worlds associated with the books.  Each world is unique and complete.  Huberath takes us through a careful examination of what that nesting may mean and in doing so draws you, the reader, into the action as well.  I found the book a little slow going at first.  He allows you to slowly unwind the details of the first world you encounter.  That felt a little awkward.  But the concept is so interesting that I just couldn't walk away from it.  In the end the investment paid off handsomely.  What is the nature of the Universe?  How do we remain human even in the most extreme situation?  What sacrifice will you make for love?

I can't think of a comparable book for "Nest of Worlds".  It is a wonderful work by an author at the height of his talent.

Rating - **** Recommended

Monday, April 14, 2014

Movie Review - In the Heat of the Night

In the Heat of the Night - (1967) - The town of Sparta, Mississippi has high hopes for a new factory in their town.  Then the man who was to build that factory is killed on the street.  Police initially suspect a black man travelling through town named Virgil Tibbs (Sidney Poitier) but he turns out to be a homicide detective from Philadelphia.  When Sheriff Gillepsie (Rod Steiger) verifies that fact he gets a suprising gift.  Tibbs boss offers the small town department the use of Tibbs's expertise.  Together the two must find a way past their personal expectations and biases to solve the case.

I will admit that a little bit of tingle ran down my spine when this disc arrived.  I haven't seen this movie in years but it's one that sticks with you.  There's everything to love about it. It opens to the sound of Ray Charles singing. The screenplay by Stirling Silliphant is fabulous.  Steiger and Poitier wonderful are beyond words.  The supporting cast is centered on Warren Oates and Lee Grant with plenty of other familiar faces.  In the hands of a skilled and veteran director like Norman Jewison it's just an astounding movie.

What's best in this movie is that everyone is shown with thier flaws.  Tibbs pride makes the situation harder.  Gillespie's small town mentality and racism makes him doubt every word and action of Tibbs.  At the same time both men are honorable and trying to do the best they can despite their situation.  They will struggle with the facts of the case and their antipathy for each other. Tubbs finds himself in a world he wants no part of and Gillespie has the outside world inflicted on his nice, safe town.  In the end more than just a killer will be discovered.  Each will have to confront parts of themselves.

"In the Heat of the Night" was nominated for seven Academy Awards and won five.  That included Best Film, Best Actor (Steiger) and Best Adapted Screenplay.

There's a feeling I get when I watching something very special.  My energy level goes up and I smile all the way through.  It's exactly how I felt watchingthis movie.

Rating - ***** Worth Owning

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Movie Review (Extra) - RoboCop

RoboCop (1987) - In a dystopian future Detroit a city policeman is mortally wounded then brought back to life and duty when he's transformed into a cyborg.  RoboCop will have to battle criminals, the big money corporation that created him and his own lingering memories.

This all began when I caught the last 45 minutes or so of Paul Verhoeven's 1987 movie "RoboCop" on one of the movie channels and made some slighting remarks about it on my Facebook page.  My cousin Stewart Smith (Entertainment Editor of the Tyler (TX) Morning Telegraph and award winning journalist) challenged me to re-consider my assessment, believing that there was more there than I thought.

So I popped the movie into my Netflix queue (and was promptly greeted with the dreaded "Long Wait" flag) and waited.  During my "time off" I've enjoyed being able to watch a movie with lunch a couple days a week.  "RoboCop" filled that slot.

Let me step back for a moment.  I believe there are four key aspects of a movie.  Concept, Script/Dialogue, Cast/Acting, and Production/Visuals.  Lots of movies get by with high scores in only three of those areas, a few get by with only two.  So let's see how "RoboCop" does.

Concept - This is the movies greatest strength.  In some ways the concept was almost prescient, presenting us with Detroit in collapse and mega-corporations moving into more and more areas traditionally thought of a "public" (military, hospitals, prisons, police).  Advances in technology allow a greater integration of humanity and technology (cyborgs).  Out of that is created the icon that is RoboCop.  A corporation steals his life, and attempts to eliminate both his personality and humanity.  He is now a "product" rather than a person.  The audience is faced with the classic challenge of the cyborg.  Is it human?  At what point does it cease to be so?

Call this a pass.

Script/Dialogue - Sadly, that great concept is utterly let down at this point.  The script and the dialogue have the sophistication level of a 13 year old boy.  The characters are one dimensional and show no growth during the movie.  Laced with superfluous obscenity the dialogue is stilted and unnatural.  Instead of giving us some intellecutal meat to chew on we get criminals who try to kick an armored robot police officer between the legs.  With the expected results.  RoboCop tosses a criminal through the door of a convenience store upright cooler and then offers up "Thank you for your cooperation".  Shakespeare this isn't.  The script is also borrows heavily from many other movies.  You'll get a taste of "Blade Runner" (which was a partial inspiration for the movie), you'll get a clear Darth Vader reference.  It just feels a lot like a script that was cobbled together from available pieces.

It also never really decides just how it's going to approach the concept.  Sometimes it's a dark, dystopian movie.  Then we get the knee to the groin joke.  For a while I played with the idea that it was supposed to be satire or black comedy.  Again the script never commits to either concept.  I was left with the feeling that the writer felt like he needed to try and put some adult movie concepts in there somewhere.  Again, a cobbled script lacking a true central vision.

Some critics  have praised the script as offering a strong female lead in the person of RoboCop's partner (from when he was just officer Murphy), Officer Ann Lewis.  The idea is ludicrous.  She is just another in a long line of incidental female roles who never manage to emerge from the shadow of her male lead.  Early on as she beats up a manacled suspect in the station house.  Tough lady, right?  The first time she has to take on a suspect "in the wild" he takes her down with a move that shouldn't work against a kindergartner,   In the rest of the movie she's there to provide compassion, supply and support.  She does manage to blow up one bad guy at the end.  Just another secondary female movie character for me.  Too bad she wasn't given more.

Call this a fail.

Cast/Acting - There's some real veteran actors in this cast.  Ronnie Cox, Kurtwood Smith, Miguel Ferrer, Paul McClane.  Peter Weller does a nice job in a role that severly limits his range of emotion.  He carries the emptiness of RoboCop quite well but I'm not sold on his performance the way some critics have been.  Roger Ebert, of sainted memory, credits Weller's ability to elicit sympathy while covered in prosthetics.  Given the plot I don't think that required a lot of acting.  Given that I find the script and dialogue so bad I'm not sure how much blame I can give to the cast.  They do the best they can with decidedly inferior material.

Call this a push.

Production/Visuals - If you're going to claim "Blade Runner" as your inspiration you've set the standard for the "look" of the movie very high.  That isn't entirely fair since the "Blade Runner" budget was $28,000,000 and "RoboCop" was working with only $13,000,000.  I have no doubt the special effects chewed up a chunk of that.  For the time they're not bad.  Not great but not bad.  Once again there's no commitment to a single vision for the movie.  Visually the movie looks a lot like a well financed indie pic.  The descriptions in the movie give you a vision of Detroit that speaks to Batman's Gotham City.  Curiously, the city you actually see is only minorly rundown.

The movie is also pretty bloody at times.  Not as bloody as the original cut which received an "X" rating.  It's not quite Sam Peckinpaugh but clearly gets some inspiration there.  Once again, even on the blood and guts/gross out theme the movie can't figure out what it wants to be.  The toxic slime "accident" late in the movie is much more teen horror than major motion picture.

There are some standout moments.  RoboCop emerging from the fireball of an exploding gas station, the RoboCop itself.  Even the ED-209 (the totally robotic police unit) isn't awful.  I will admit that every time I look at it all I see are studio microphones I've worked with during my radio career.  But even the ED-209 can't figure out what it is.  When it falls down the stairs at one point it gets stuck on it's back making pitiful small animal noises.

That lack of a consistent vision makes this a fail for me.

So one pass, one push and two fails.  I can hardly get excited about "RoboCop".  Made by the same studio, this is basically just a low rent "Terminator" rip off.  The difference is that the "Terminator" movies get all the pieces right.

At the same time the movie created some iconic images and moments for the wider movie world.

So we'll give this movie a just barely "Worth A Look" rating.

Rating - *** Worth A Look

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Book Review - Bear Is Broken

Bear Is Broken by Laclan Smith (2013) - Leo Maxwell lives in the shadow of his older brother Danny, the most successful and possibly most hated defense attorney in the San Francisco area, and his father, currently serving a life sentence for the murder of  their mother.  In both cases he both loves and hates what passes for his family.  When Danny is murdered Leo will have to step out of his role as "Monkey Boy" and try to solve mysteries that suddenly make up his life.

I'll give Smith this - I've read much worse debut novels.   In fact I've read third and fourth novels by authors that don't build a story as well as he has here.  The problem is that once the story is built he seems to lose track of what he is supposed to be doing with it.  We follow Leo along as he is very quickly in over his head with the police, with his brother's ex-wife (on whom little brother once had a fairish sized crush), the wealthy young heiress, her brother, mother and father, plus various former clients of Danny's.  For me the problem is that Leo never seems to rise above the confusion.  He flip flops between possible suspects without ever really nailing down any one candidate till the answer falls into his lap.

Leo never truly stands up for himself, never seems to come up with any kind of plan and manages to get played by just about everyone at least once.  When he thinks he's playing other people the impression I got mostly was befuddlement from the others as they just stare dumbfounded as he fumbles along.

This book is listed as the first of a series.  I didn't see anything that particularly inspires me to follow along with Leo's adventures.  Mostly I just wanted to give "Monkey Boy" a swat upside his head.  At the same time the books not a bad read.  So it's possible I could be tempted to check out something else by Lachlan Smith.

Rating - ***  Worth A Look

Monday, April 7, 2014

Movie Review - Driving Lessons

Driving Lessons (2006) - A shy young man, Ben, (Rupert Grint) takes a job working for an eccentric retired actress, Evie, (Julie Walters) in part to make a little money and in part to escape his domineering mother (Laura Linney).  His browbeaten father, the local vicar, (Nicholas Farrell) has retreated before his wife's megalomania and carefully ignores her affair with his curate. Evie will take him places he's never imagined and his mother would never approve. The movie is a warm story of a boy's coming of age.

Harry Potter fans will find  some familiar faces here as Grint and Walters are re-united.  This is not the greatest coming of age movie of all time.  It relies very heavily on many of the "stock pieces" of the genre and doesn't really do anything new with them.  At the end the screenplay seems to be at a loss how to end the story.  There's a couple of odd lurches to the story and then it just sort of peters out.  The story certainly deserved better than it gets.

On the other hand because the story feels less "polished" it comes across as a little more "real".  Coming of age is awkward and a little untidy.  This falls into my caegory of a "little film".  Not a big budget, not a sweeping story, just the kind of little story that actually takes place in real people's lives.  I have a very soft spot for movies like this.  They're about my two favorite parts - character and story.

While the story revolves around Ben but the real force in the story are the two women.  Evie feels free to simply be herself even as that self is a little lost.  Ben will help her find the way back.  On the other side is Ben's uber controlling mother.  She is angry and intense.  Nothing makes much of a dent on her.  Linney is just scary good in this role.

There's a strong religious sub plot here.  The church is not shown at its finest.  Which is not to say that it isn't a fair representation of at least parts of it.  The mother's understanding of church is based on a simplistic theology that is used to control everything around her.  The father's faith is emasculated, just as his wife has emasculated him.  Evie doesn't think much of faith at all and Ben has been taught not to think at all.  It would have been great if they'd either gone somewhere with this story line or dumped most of it.  This part of the story just kind of hangs there, without purpose or destination.

In the end the movie is just this, a sweet little story with some fascinating characters.  It might have been so much more but it's just enough as it is.

Rating - *** Worth A Look

Friday, April 4, 2014

The End of Local Media, School and Social Media, Business Reality

 "The View From the Phlipside" is a media commentary program airing on WRFA-LP, Jamestown NY.  It can be heard Monday through Friday just after 8 AM and 5 PM.  The following are scripts which may not exactly match the aired version of the program.  Mostly because the host may suddenly choose to add or subtract words at a moments notice.  WRFA-LP is not responsible for any such silliness or the opinions expressed.  You can listen to a live stream of WRFA or find a podcast of this program at  Copyright 2013-14 by Jay Phillippi.  All Rights Reserved.  You like what you see?  Drop me a line and we can talk.

Program scripts from week of March 31, 2014

My name is Jay Phillippi and I've spent my life in and around the media.  TV, radio, the movies and more.  I love them, and I hate them and I always have an opinion.  Call this the View from the Phlipside. 

Business Reality                                                                                                  

As a lifelong science fiction fan I am very familiar with the concept of “virtual reality”.  Writers have been playing with the concept for decades now.  From the earliest ideas of three dimensional projections up the holodecks found in the “Star Trek” universe the idea of being able to interact with other people as if they were in the same room or to interact with completely created worlds has fascinated us.

Recently virtual reality hit the front pages when Mark Zuckerberg and his minions at Facebook dropped two billion dollars on the purchase of the company that makes the best of the current generation of virtual reality headsets, known as the Oculus Rift.

The reaction to this news is kind of funny.  The gamer community promptly lost their fanboy marbles.  Facebook is the digital equivalent of a minivan.  It is many things but cool is not one of them.  So the idea that a company so astoundingly uncool was trying to sit at the cool kid’s table was more than a lot of folks could bear.  The creator of the iconic game “Minecraft” went so far as to declare that they would cease work on bringing their game to Oculus Rift because as the founder notes “Facebook creeps me out”.

I think a lot folks have lost touch with reality, virtual or otherwise.  Oculus Rift began with a two and a half million dollar Kickstarter campaign.  That’s nice but the reality is that’s a drop in the bucket of what will be needed to make this “the next big thing”.  That will need big bucks.  Billions of big bucks.  Which means that some big corporate entity was always in the future of the Oculus headset.

Could Facebook screw this up?  Oh, certainly.  The Zuckerdroids have shown some astoundingly tone deaf moves over the years.  Facebook’s increasingly aggressive and almost unavoidable advertising is one of the greatest bogey men in the gamer closet.  Facebook is moving into a field where they have ZERO experience and less than zero credibility.  If they stay out of the way of gamer development while simultaneously exploring the social media possibilities they could, to use a gamer term, level up in the digital world alongside folks like Google and Microsoft.

We’ll have to wait and see what happens after the angst settles. Because in the end there is no save point on a two billion dollar investment.

School and Social Media                                                                                        

This next story makes me crazy in more than one manner. As a long time observer of the media it makes me crazy. And as someone who has worked with teens for over a decade it makes me crazy. A 13 year old girl in Minnesota went on her Facebook account and posted that she didn’t like one of her school’s hall monitors because, in the young lady’s words, the adult in question was “mean”. That’s the entirety of the comment that sets the following events in motion. The school gave her an in school suspension for the comment. They then brought her into the office, and in front of school officials and a police officer, forced her to give them the password to her Facebook and e-mail accounts. These adults then began searching all of her communications looking for any additional “offenses”. Just a clarification. The girl had made the comments on her personal Facebook account. On her own time, not school time. On her own computer, not school computers. And the young lady’s mother says the school district did not get parental permission for this search. Has your head exploded yet? This astounds me because it indicates that at least this school district has decided that they have control over all aspects of a student’s life, even when they’re home. This astounds me because professional educators ought to have a better grip on how teens talk. The monitor was “mean”. There was no attack on the reputation of the adult (seriously, you want to argue that being called “mean” by a 13 year old damages an adult?), there was no call for bad behavior. She just thinks this adult is mean. Finally, where were the legal advisors for this school district? Surely they didn’t advocate for this approach? The family sued and won a $70,000 verdict. I know that school districts have plenty on their plates today. So I don’t understand why they would decide to take on social media use by their charges with so little advance planning and thought. Let’s hope they can at least serve as a bad example for other school districts.

The End of Local Media                                                                                                             

Most listeners to this program are aware that I have worked in local radio for a good portion of my adult life.  For many years I worked for radio stations here in the Jamestown area.  Before that I worked for two stations in Erie, PA and one in a tiny little  town south of Pittsburgh.  I have been part of the “local media” as compared to the “national media”.  And that was absolutely fine with me.  

In my heart of hearts I am a local media guy.  I like the ability to reach out and be involved with your listeners.  To have common reference points and experiences.  The fact that you will run into your listeners pretty much everywhere you go is also a great way to keep your ego in check.  When you step over a line you will hear about it.

So what I’m about to say may shock you.  It certainly saddens me.  I think local media may be doomed.

We’ve touched on this in a couple ways, talking about the difficulty of old line media to find new business models, the reluctance of old line media to embrace the new digital world and more philosophical discussions like the future of journalism.

The longer I think about it I’m not sure there’s a way that local media can survive.  I have serious doubts that the people running local media companies.  I don’t think they have the imagination to find a new way of thinking about their industry.  At the same time the insistence among too many on the Internet that they don’t want to pay for information services shows how little they understand about what it takes to offer the kind of services newspapers, radio stations and TV stations can offer.

It’s not that I don’t believe there is a solution out there.  The challenge is that local media outlets need to start thinking of themselves in new ways.  Are you a media company or a radio station, a newspaper?  A media company needs to move with the times.  The alternative is what happened to the buggy whip industry.

At the moment most local media (everywhere, not just here) are focused on cutting costs and offering a more efficient but more generic product.

If that’s the best they can do then the end of local media is a lot closer than I’d like.

Call that the View From the Phlipside

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Best of the Web - The Dads - Pittsburgh Dad and Bat Dad

(Best of the Web is an occasional series of posts looking at what I believe is the World Wide Web being used to its absolute best)

One of the great things about the Internet is that it allows all of us the chance to be a star.  I love those folks who begin with something they are just doing for fun.  It's to amuse themselves and maybe a few friends.  Then somebody else discovers it.  And shares it.  Then more people share it.  Suddenly, much to their surprise, they discover they are Internet stars.  Today's two also have the added advantage (for me) that they are about being dads.  Oh, and one is about Pittsburgh.

"Bat Dad" (Vine and YouTube)  Bat Dad is Blake Wilson, a real life dad from Georgia who has been having fun playing with a Batman mask and annoying his family.  Done in the very short format of Vine videos (limited to seven seconds)  Bat Dad has found a real niche.  It's funny, it's a wonderful look at parenting and it will bring a smile to your face.  Wilson acknowledges that it's basically stupid (and that his wife is a saint for putting up with it.  Not only is her husband a PITA but the ENTIRE WORLD gets to watch him do it.  That's love).  It started as a family joke.  Now it's an Internet sensation.  Gotta love it.

It's possible that "Pittsburgh Dad" (YouTube) may have a more limited audience than Bat Dad because it is so connected to Pittsburgh.  I can live with that.  As a 'Burgh expatriate and the son of a Pittsburgh Dad this was like going home every week.  The videos are the work of Chris Preksta and Curt Wootton, two guys with Pittsburgh roots.  The first several videos were recorded on an iPhone just for fun.  Again, the two suddenly discovered a whole lot of folks with Pittsburgh roots had fallen in love with the character.  Since then there has been an official City of Pittsburgh "Pittsburgh Dad Day", the Steelers have had them out to training camp and used the character on stadium videos.  Want to understand your family and friends who were raised in Pittsburgh?  Pittsburgh Dad can teach you a lot.  Plus make you laugh.  Unless you're a Baltimore Ravens fan.

Doing something that you enjoy, just for the fun of it.  The Internet can take that and let people around the globe enjoy it right along with you.  For me, that's The Best of the Web.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Movie Review - A Raisin in the Sun

A Raisin in the Sun (1961) - A poor black family in Chicago faces new stresses when the life insurance check arrives.  Walter Lee (Sidney Poitier) dreams of escaping his poverty while his wife Ruth (Ruby Dee) is simply trying to figure out how to keep her husband happy.  His mother has to figure out what to do with that money as it tears her family apart.

The Tony award winning play is brought to the screen with most of the Broadway cast reprising their roles.  This is the movie debut of Louis Gossett.  The supporting cast includes veteran character actor John Fielder and Ivan Dixon (best known to my generation from his role on "Hogan's Heroes").

In many ways this is the classic story of a young man reaching for the mythical "American Dream".  A dream that has always been as much a curse as a blessing.  Immigrant group after immigrant group have struggled with the desire to join the middle class and the need to assimilate with the dominant culture.  For the African American there is the added layer of racism that forms a barrier to making that change.  All of that stands at the center of the story here.  Walter, his sister and his mother represent three different set of dreams and expectations.  Conflict begins there and then runs head long into the cold, grim reality of real life.

" Raisin in the Sun" is the story of the potential for dreams to both inspire and consume the dreamer.

Rating - **** Recommended

Friday, March 28, 2014

Staying with Commercials, Relying on Technology, Summer Movie Preview

 "The View From the Phlipside" is a media commentary program airing on WRFA-LP, Jamestown NY.  It can be heard Monday through Friday just after 8 AM and 5 PM.  The following are scripts which may not exactly match the aired version of the program.  Mostly because the host may suddenly choose to add or subtract words at a moments notice.  WRFA-LP is not responsible for any such silliness or the opinions expressed.  You can listen to a live stream of WRFA or find a podcast of this program at  Copyright 2013-14 by Jay Phillippi.  All Rights Reserved.  You like what you see?  Drop me a line and we can talk.

Program scripts from week of March 23, 2014

My name is Jay Phillippi and I've spent my life in and around the media.  TV, radio, the movies and more.  I love them, and I hate them and I always have an opinion.  Call this the View from the Phlipside. 

Staying with Commercials                                                                                    

I’ve talked here before about the fact that most people don’t like commercials.  The major exception to that are the Super Bowl ads but beyond that commercials of any kind are something that we try to avoid.  With the advent VCRs and then DVRs we no longer had to sit through them on TV.  We could just zip through them and we did with increasing frequency.  Manufacturers started building that function in, my current DVR has a button that is labeled Commercial Skip.  Dish Network offers the Hopper to make it even easier.

None of this makes the TV channels and networks very happy.  Their entire business model is built on advertising sales.  Companies pay a lot of money for the chance to show their commercial message to the audience.  That’s wasted money if that audience is actively able to skip past those messages.  Advertising theory says that a consumer needs multiple exposures to the commercial message for it to sink in.  That doesn’t work if they just skip on by.

So a variety of networks are trying ways to get us to stick around.  One of the first I saw was on ESPN’s “Pardon the Interruption” where they drop in on the talent during the commercial break and give you a taste of what they talk about during the breaks.  Sometimes it’s boring but sometimes it’s hysterical.  You stick around, just in case.

Sporting events have gone to split screens in some cases.  I am a big fan of Formula One racing.  They will sometime keep the race in one part of the screen while the rest is given over to the advertising.  It’s another approach to getting people to stay where the advertiser can make their pitch.

Recently Fox’s talent franchise “American Idol” combined the two approaches.  During commercial break they split the screen (into as many as six boxes at one point!) with the advertising in various boxes but the action live on stage being shown at the same time.  It’s an interesting approach to trying to keep the audience that ties into the latest trends in media watching.  More and more people are dealing with multiple windows or even screens anyway so that this feels like a natural experience anyway.  It’ll be interesting to see if the trend continues to grow.

On the other hand you have the tradition in another of my favorite sports, soccer.  Where there are no commercial breaks during the action at all.  I’ve always kind of liked that approach.

Relying On Technology                                                                                         

I’ve been watching the news and thinking about the technology that has become such a huge part of our daily lives. Once upon a time (and not all that long ago really) it was easy to separate the media we consumed from the technology that brought it to us. Let’s face it, no one outside the newspaper building cared how a newspaper was printed. The technology of radio, TV and the movies were invisible and generally ignored. But technology is now not only part of our media life, it’s part of our fashion life, it’s part of our social distinction. Think I’m overstating it? Go into a room of people, ask them who is iPhone and who is Droid and then step back out of the way. We have come to make our technology not only an integral part of our lives but of our identity as well. The problem in all of this is brought into focus by the recent, probably tragic, story of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370. I am seeing increasing numbers of posts from people who are frustrated by the fact that we can’t find the plane. We have come to believe that anything is possible with technology. Hasn’t technology made the world a smaller place? Can’t satellites see everything. Yet that plane has disappeared. I worry about this reliance on technology. I worry about the generation that is being raised to be dependent on technology. The one comfortable with a GPS but is a little lost with a paper map. Technology is fun and it enables us to do many more things than we could have done a decade ago. But have we let technology do too much for us? Sometimes the power is going to go off, sometimes you’ll be in an area where there is no service, sometimes you just might find yourself in a room with a bunch of people that you can’t just mute. We still don’t know what happened on that flight. We may never know. But it can give us the chance to consider the role that we have allowed technology to have in our lives. If your various devices all went black tomorrow, what would you do? And what does that say about who is really in control of your life?

Summer Movie Preview                                                                                                             

This is a little earlier than usual for my advance look at summer movies but this never ending winter weather is making me look for any way to think warm thoughts.

Of course we still have two months before the summer months of June through August arrive.  Between now and then there are some big movies headed our way like the next Captain America (which opens next week), and the next in the reboot version of the Amazing Spiderman.  Plus we get Angelina Jolie as the Disney villain Maleficent in the movie of the same name.

But let’s talk summer!

There’s the usual boatload of sequels - 22 Jump Street, How to Train Your Dragon 2, Transformers 4, Think Like A Man Too, the reboot version of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and The Purge-Anarchy.

Summer time is a great time for the action fan and the science fiction fan and this year it runs true to form.  Look for the second (and wholly unrelated) Hercules movie of the year, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, some new Marvel superheroes in Guardians of the Galaxy, Tom Cruise in Edge of Tomorrow, Jupiter Ascending from the folks that brought you the Matrix movies, plus two that might slip under your radar because they don’t sound like they belong in this category but they do - “The Congress” and “The Giver”.

For the kiddies check out “Hero of Color City” which is about the adventures of a band of crayons and for the Young Adult crowd there is “The Fault in Our Stars” and “Earth to Echo” which is about teenagers getting strange messages on their cell phones.  I’ll let you fill in your own punchline on that one.

Two musicals - Clint Eastwood directing “Jersey Boys” and a new version of “Annie” with Quvenzhané Wallis (from Beasts of the Southern Wild) in the title role and Jamie Foxx in the Daddy Warbucks role.

Looking for laughs there will be “Let’s Be Cops” (which is about exactly what it sounds like), a roadtrip comedy called “Tammy”, “Obvious Child”, “Can A Song Save Your Life” (which is a terrible title) and Daniel Radcliffe in “What If”. 

Round it out with some bio pics (one of Yve St. Laurent and the other on the Godfather of Soul, James Brown) plus a whole lot of movies you’ll probably never see or hear of and it should be some fun time at theaters.

Now if we can just get the weather to cooperate.

Call that the View From the Phlipside

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

From My Shelves - Winesburg, Ohio

(From My Shelves is an occasional series of posts about books, movies and music that hold a special place in my heart and on my shelves)

College is the time when you go away and discover a universe that you never knew existed.  At least it was for me.  My vision of social interactions, music, movies, books, ideas, anything you care to name changed dramatically in those four years.  In the immediate aftermath I hung on to a case of books from college.  As the years went by more and more of them fell away.  Today I don't think there's a handful I still own.  That's fine, most of them have served their purpose.  I've continued to grow which means that I've outgrown some of them.  Some have simply become dated and are no longer relevent.

But in that handful are books that reassembled my worldview in ways that still amaze me.  I'm not sure any book has had the impact on my view of writing that Sherwood Anderson's "Winesburg, Ohio" did.  Here was a book that told a story in a series of short stories.  It was not a single narrative but it told a single story.  George Willard grew up in Winesburg and knew every street corner in that small town.  He also knows all the people of that town, the people the author refers to as "grotesques".  Through 22 stories we are introduced to the people of the town.  Through thier struggles and shortcomings we come to know the town as a whole.

When it was first published in 1919 it was considered unconventional in its story telling style.  Just shy of 60 years later that story telling style would be just as much of a revelation to a boy from suburban America.  I connected with Willard and the place where he had grown.  In many ways it seemed similar to the places I had known as a child.

This is a book that holds such a special place in my memory, in my personal mythology, that I am almost afraid to read it again.  Afraid that it will not live up to my memory, that I might have somehow outgrown it.  That seems unlikely given that it has made several lists of great novels of the 20th Century.  I think it's probably time for George and me to spend some time together once again.

As a would be writer myself there are two ultimate goals I would love to achieve.  I would like to write a story with the depth and texture of Ray Bradbury.  And I want to write a story in the fashion of "Winesburg, Ohio".  It's curious that both that writer and this novel have deep connections to the small town America of a century or more ago.

Rating - ***** Worth Owning